Illini Days bring alumni together

By Amanda Rhee, Staff Writer

Jennifer Dillavou is a Champaign-Urbana native who graduated from the University in 1982. Years later, she continues to work with the alumni network to bring about a celebration of the University beyond the confines of the campus area.

Dillavou is the associate vice chancellor for Alumni Relations and president of the University Alumni Association. One of her recent accomplishments is the organization of Illini Days.

The first set of Illini Days was held in 2016. After an increased amount of interest, the event was held again in 2018. Illini Days was a series of events, performances and speakers that took place in 2018 from Nov. 12-16 to celebrate and connect the University’s alumni as well as raise the profile of the University in the Chicagoland area. 

“Interest was successful with the goal of raising the profile of the University among nearly half of the Urbana alumni base residing in the Chicagoland area,” Dillavou said. “We felt for optimum exposure within the metropolitan area that we wanted to make Illini Days a week long, and we didn’t want to just concentrate activities downtown, but take them out to the suburbs as well.”

Last year’s Illini Days started off with individual colleges of the University having unit-specific events. On Tuesday, nearly 300 people attended Women in Media at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. David Bambrey, assistant vice chancellor for Alumni Relations, helped organize this event. 

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    Bambrey said it was important to bring together alumni currently working in media as well as campus faculty members for the event since the organizers wanted to show both educational and industrial aspects.

    The Women in Media event hosted a discussion with five alumni from the University and Associate Professor Nikki Usher. Niala Boodhoo, a host from Illinois Public Media The 21st, moderated the panel.

    “It was a wonderful event, had a great turnout and we took a number of students from the College of Media, so we had a group of students to interact with the alumni as well,” Bambrey said.

    On Wednesday, over 200 attendees went to an event in the western suburbs at the Morton Arboretum. Gerald Donnelly, president of the Arboretum, welcomed the alumni and Laura Payne, professor in the College of AHS. She then delivered a brief talk on urban green spaces and how people can become involved with helping those initiatives. She also discussed some of the research that is being done at the University based on urban green spaces and the work she and her colleagues are conducting.

    The same day also featured the Marching Illini, with a Riverboat performance going down the Chicago River.

    “We did some great things around social media to reach our local alumni that might have been working or reside downtown to support the Marching Illini as they floated down the river that day,” Bambrey said.

    A northern suburbs event was held on Thursday at the North Shore Country Club, where Chancellor Robert Jones delivered a University address, and Josh Whitman, Director of Athletics, delivered the athletic update. Pat Basu, a class of 2000 Engineering graduate and the Illinois Alumni Association Board Chair, emceed for the evening.

    The last event of the week was a Friday Luncheon, featuring a dean’s panel moderated by Chancellor Jones. The event drew close to 450 attendees. It featured a discussion with deans from four different colleges at the University: Vikram Amar from Law, Feng Sheng Hu from LAS, Tracy Sulkin from Media and Kevin Hamilton from FAA. Current initiatives within their respective colleges were discussed as well as their visions for the foreseeable future.

    “The events from Illini Days were very well received and received lots of enthusiasm,” Dillavou said. “Quite frankly with Northwestern calling themselves Chicago’s Big Ten school, we really felt like we were going to do our very best to turn Chicago orange for that week.”

    Due to the positive reception of 2018’s Illini Days, plans to have another set of Illini Days in 2019 are in action. Dillavou expressed intent to make Illini Days an annual event.

    “(We) will be calling a meeting to debrief on this past round of activities to begin planning for this year,” Dillavou said. “With the success of this last round of Illini Days, I hope it will generate a lot of enthusiasm among our partners across the University’s Urbana campus, and that we will have interest expressed on behalf of our partners, and they will want to be a part of the next round of Illini Days.”

    Dillavou also mentioned taking these events to locations other than the Chicagoland area. She said the organizers will have a meeting about the possibility of hosting an Illini Days event in Arizona in the spring.

    Many people were involved with setting up the programmatic elements of Illini Days which contributed to its great success. Casey Arnold, director of Board Operations for the Alumni Alliance, had an important role with organizing Illini Days as well.

    “I provide support to the Illinois Alumni Association of Board of Directors, so I work closely with some of our key volunteers,” Arnold said. “I was in a support role for the programmatic aspect with helping set up the events.”

    With key leaders from the University involved with marketing the event and programming, the goals of Illini Days were accomplished, with hopes of continuing this event in the future.

    “Illini Days’ purpose is networking, enhanced engagement with the Alma Mater and walking away with a sense of pride in the University of Illinois,” Dillavou said.

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